Mahwah’s government will get some free help sifting through the from a environmental assessment class. Last week, Mahwah’s mayor and representatives from the township’s planning board, environmental commission and ‘Sustainable Mahwah’ group met with the class to iron out the details of the agreement.
According to a release from the senior year Environmental Studies students, they will be preparing an “Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to explore the socio-economic, ecological, and physical impacts” of the plan for the development of a 750,000 square foot “lifestyle” shopping center at the intersection of Routes 17 and 287. The goal of the project, students say, is to give the township “objective evidence about the impacts this development project will have on the residents and the environment and help facilitate a positive decision for the use of this land.”
According to Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet the student study will be considered alongside professional reviews of the shopping center’s development plan. He said he feels both the township and the college will benefit from the project. “For the kids, it is a great hands-on experience that will have a big impact in the real world and for Mahwah they are a great resource,” Laforet said.
According to Professor Mike Edelstein, whose Environmental Assessment class will be conducting the analysis of the Crossroads development, this is in line with the types of projects that act as capstones to the environmental studies program. “We always choose a real life project and the kids work on issues that matter,” Edelstein, who said he’s been teaching the course this way for about 30 years, said.
According to Edelstein, past Ramapo analysis projects have included studies on I-287 (before, during and after it was built), the campus’s emergency response plan, the impact of , the , hydrofracking, and the impact of the destruction of the World Trade Center on lower Manhattan.
The class provides the results of its studies to the “clients” who commission them. In the case of the Crossroads study, the results will be given to the township’s Environmental Commission.
Edelstein said the class will be divided so that each student will work on a particular aspect of the study. The seniors will be looking at potential surface water issues, flooding, air pollution, noxious conditions at the site, lights, noises, odors, and health and safety considerations of the development, among other considerations. “The students will not support or oppose any particular use of the land,” Edelstein said. “We are just hoping this kind of research will be useful to the town and can help untangle a complicated local decision.”
As a part of the process, the class will hold three public meetings to solicit comments from residents and present their findings. The project will be finished this May, right before the students graduate from Ramapo.
Edelstein said this is the first time in recent history that the college has partnered with the township for this type of project.
For Ramapo’s President Dr. Peter Mercer, the partnership is one that makes sense. “Our connection [with the township] in the past has always been positive,” he said. “But, I have always hoped for a more significant and meaningful relationship between the two, and I think this could be a start to that.”
According to Mercer, he is working with Laforet to form a subcommittee of representatives from both the college and the township that will meet regularly to discuss ways to connect the two. “Whether it’s something like this [project] or something like a clean-up day where our students volunteer in the township, there’s a lot that we can do together.”
Laforet said fostering the relationship between the college and Mahwah has been one of his goals. “It can be a great resource for us, and at the same time we can provide a lot to the students who are living and learning here,” he said.
Ramapo College senior Kelly Schaeff, who is an environmental studies major and will be working on the Crossroads project, agreed. “I am personally excited about this particular project because development of the Crossroads is very important,” she said. “This assessment will be challenging and it will reflect all of the collective efforts of our graduating Environmental Studies class. I feel we are definitely capable and prepared to do a complete and thorough assessment.”